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Be braver. Read more books. Be more creative and more productive with that creativity. Lighten up. Engage in the adventure. See more exhibitions. Keep writing. Write more! Take more risks. See more films. Be more regular in emailing friends. Get more sleep but donít overdo it. Exercise more often. Eat less junk. Have more self belief. Spend less time online and more time on life. Above all, be more open to new opportunities. Donít buy into other peopleís dramas and negativity. Donít defer to others. Stand tall. Be all that itís possible to be. There! That pretty much covers it.
The period of introspection draws to a close. Tomorrow I head back to the trains and buses that will carry me back and forth to work, and all the many demands that my job places upon my time and attention. Itís been a good couple of weeks. Iíve had a lot of time to think and reflect, but too much reflection can turn into empty naval gazing. Itís time to bite the bullet and meet the challenges of the coming year head on. Itís going to be a good one; that much Iíve decided. And it all kicks off tomorrow.
Itís way beyond a sensible bedtime so early into the term. Itís approaching 1 a.m. and Iím up again just after six. Itís been an interesting day. The staffing situation this term is dire. One wonders how it can all be justified but weíll soldier on and, no doubt, make a resounding success of things. We always seem to. This evening the lure of a new season on Wisteria Lane got the better of me, as did (dare I admit it?) Celebrity Big Brother. Well, one has to at least watch the opening night, sigh! Thatís my excuse, blah, blah . . .
He wasnít having a good day. He was upset about something and the kids were not the source of it, but boy, did he ever take it out on them: shouting, barking, unbridled sarcasm Ė weíve all had a bad day or two from time to time but they didnít deserve to be on the receiving end of such anger and vitriol. ďI donít like him,Ē whispered Louis when he was out of earshot. I understood his sentiment. I donít think I would have liked him if heíd been my teacher, either. A sad case of too many years in the job.
It was 29 years ago today that Dad drove Mum, Dorothy and Ted back from their holiday. They dropped by to see Althea on the way back and had a cup of tea. After that he drove the last 20 minutes back home, parked the car, got out, sat down and died. It was all so sudden; so unexpected. One minute he was here, the next he was gone. Mum has lived another 30 years almost since then. She has difficulty remembering him these days. I donít. I often wonder what it would have been like had he lived longer.
Given that the internet is such an amazing phenomenon right now, what is it going to be like in ten or twenty yearís time? A significant difference between getting older now and in the future, as compared to the past, is our ability to remain connected to the world in a way people could only dream about in the past. Iíve spent a lot of time with the aged and witnessed first hand the devastating effects of loneliness that age can bring. But in remaining connected to the world, we will in effect be able to remain connected to life.
Iím gearing up. There is a lot to be going on with but Iím certainly in motion. I ask myself sometimes whether Iím deluding myself; whether Iím merely an irrepressible optimist or even a perpetual teenager, or whether I really do have the right attitude towards life. I always seem to be on the verge of something. I have this irrepressible, ongoing belief that life has so much more to offer. It never really occurs to me that I might become unwell or debilitated in some way. I figure Iíll cross those bridges if and whenever I come to them.
Itís late at night and Iím tired. Outside I can hear the occasional car going by. On the mantelpiece the clock ticks quietly away while somewhere off in the distance I can hear a droning plane. Teddy has been cramming for an exam all evening. Iíve been working on a pastel painting, emailing photos to my cousin Richard and marking out correct responses to a series of multiple choice questions from old exam papers for Teddy to peruse. I met the new crop of students today, intermingled as they are with the ones returning from last term. An interesting bunch.
I felt happy at work today. The new crop of kids, though not without their challenges, are a pretty likeable bunch of rascals, while the ones who have returned are so happy to be back it almost beggars belief. I get such a buzz out of the artistic energy they generate, not to mention how surprised they can be with their own achievements. One young lad had a real breakthrough today, producing a painting he obviously never imagined himself capable of before. His shift from initial indifference to surprised delight at what he had achieved was a treat to behold.
I went online tonight to check whether the site was back up again yet, and it was! I was so happy. I guess I hadnít fully taken on board just how much Iíve come to appreciate the process of not only writing 100 words a day but also putting those words out there. I love the fact that other people do it too. I love the fact that itís a shared compulsion. Is compulsion too strong a word? Maybe, maybe not. Still, who cares? Whoís analyzing? The bottom line is it feels good to be back online with everyone again.
I can hear someone moving around above my bed. Itís strange to think how we live in such close proximity to each other and yet lead such totally separate lives. This is a small flat. We own it but itís always a compromise in terms of space. Growing up in Australia I took space fro granted because thereís just so much of it out there. Here, itís different. A faulty security alarm can keep us awake all night. We can wave to people on buses from our living room window. We live with the ever-present awareness of others around us.
Iíve been back at work for a little over a week and despite the staffing problems weíre experiencing, I find myself wandering down to the station late on a Friday afternoon with a smile on my face and a spring in my step. If anyone had told me a year ago that Iíd be enjoying things this much I probably wouldnít have believed them. But itís true! In letting go of the drama and the negative self talk, itís like Iíve got a whole new working life. I really like my colleagues; I really enjoy the kids. Say no more!
I met up with my cousin Richard today for the first time in 24 years, along with his son Oliver and Oliverís partner Fay. We went for drinks at The Spice of Life in Cambridge Circus for a couple of hours before they went next door to see Spamalot. It was really enjoyable. Fascinating, too. Richard had anecdotes about Mum Iíd never heard before and we eagerly swapped stories about the family, hopelessly trying to cram 24 yours into two short hours. We got on really well and I look forward to seeing more of everyone in the coming months.
When I was at art school in the 70ís I never really warmed to iron and steel as sculptural media, especially given the lingering influence of abstraction so prevalent at the time. But if anyone had taken me to a retrospective of David Smithís remarkable sculpture back then I may very well have chosen to become a sculptor. Spending the afternoon in the presence of his extraordinary creations at the Tate Modern today really drove home the necessity of experience when it comes to sculpture. Pictures of sculpture in books canít begin translate the experience of seeing it first hand.
Today is the 15th January, the day I have nominated to kick-start my painting and reading program. What that entails is reading a minimum of 40 pages a day and painting for a minimum of five hours a week. I may well exceed those targets but they are the baseline targets that Iím setting for myself. To some it may seem a little contrived but with so many distractions constantly vying for my attention I prefer to think of it more as a healthy discipline. Anyway, it starts today. So with no further ado, I have a painting to do.
Itís happening again. Iím sitting propped up in bed trying to think of something worthwhile to write and at every turn my internal censor says ďNah, donít write about that, thatís boring.Ē I find myself hesitating between wanting to pen a diary entry and wanting to write something that someone else might find interesting. The thing is, life, if not boring, is to a large extent repetitive and itís the fear of writing the same old stuff that often gets in the way of actually writing anything. Itís at times like this I wish I had a more interesting life.
A small boy became separated from his mother in the supermarket this evening. It was all over within seconds but the utter terror in his voice as he realized heíd lost sight of her shot me right back to my own childhood and the terror I used to feel at the thought of becoming separated from my mother. I canít recall whether it ever actually happened or whether what I remember is fear at the thought of it. Nonetheless, hearing that boyís panic and fear put me back in touch with something I havenít thought about or felt for years.
The wind today was wild, gusting up to 100 mph is some parts of the country. The old school building shivered and shook, the trees outside swayed precariously close to the windows, leaves spun in crazy, circular motion in the school yard and huge limbs and branches were torn from the trees in the park across the road, one narrowly missing a passing car. Wheely bins went clattering down the street, spilling their contents over the road. Curiously, the kids were calm. Windy weather usually gets them as high as kites. I guess it was too windy for kites today.
I met an interesting woman from Greenland today. Well, maybe not strictly speaking. Sheís Danish but she was born there and has spent a sizeable chunk of her life there. It was intriguing to hear about life in such a remote and, dare I say it, mythical place. We met at Niamhís birthday bash in On Anon in Piccadilly Circus. It was an enjoyable evening and it was good to catch up with Daragh and also Chris and Kimo whom Iíve not seen for so long. And how nice to meet new friends through old friends after all these years.
I had every intention of going to see Velasquez at the National Gallery today but, one there, I discovered that there was a five hour waiting period until the next available entry Instead, I went to see ďManet to PicassoĒ in the basement of the Sainsbury Wing. In doing so I was reminded what a treasure trove of culture the National Gallery is and how accessible it is, a mere 20 minute stroll away. And so is London itself! Itís said that he (or she) who is bored of London is bored of life. I think I have to agree.
Well, itís working. I finished reading Tom Bindingís ďA Perfect ExecutionĒ last night and am now 50 pages in another book. I also finished a painting yesterday. Itís no great masterpiece but Iím moderately pleased with it and thatís what counts. Laying new tracks is what matters and my five hours a week of painting and 40 pages a day reading program are paying dividends. Itís interesting how once you make time for something, time itself stretches to accommodate it. And after a couple of weeks it becomes more or less integrated and a new habit becomes an old one.
I let myself become rattled today. I wasnít the only one, but thatís not the issue. A group of kids who were so calm and focused last term have become argumentative and defiant. I know I shouldnít be surprised. Itís why we exist as a unit. I guess I just didnít handle it so well and the hangover effect is with me still and that in itself is fuelling the rattles. I mean, theyíre kids. Theyíre going to play up sometimes. It doesnít make them bad people and it doesnít mean that Iíve lost control. These things just happen sometimes.
The reading commitment is going well. Sebastian Faulks is a superb writer. As for painting, well, thatís not going so well. The problem is, I have half a dozen or more nearly finished pieces but Iím not really inspired by them at the moment. I need to plan a new series of works. I need to make time to map out what it is Iím going to do. It doesnít have to be painting, either. Image making might be a better term. Yes, I prefer that. What matters most is being involved in the creative act on an ongoing basis.
At 6:30 this morning I stumbled half asleep into the kitchen to discover it had been snowing overnight. The terrace outside the kitchen window had been transformed into a winter wonderland. Immediately, I felt my spirits rise, although the subsequent two and a half hour journey to work somewhat dampened them again. It never fails to amaze me how an inch of snow can bring London Transport to a virtual standstill. Nonetheless, the view from the train was enchanting. Itís amazing how a layer of fluffy white stuff can so thoroughly transform a landscape. Yes, I do love the snow.
Sebastian Faulks is a fine writer and ďThe Girl at the Hotel DíOrĒ is an exquisite read. I have ďBirdsongĒ lined up next. I had it lined up in my mind even before I realised it was the same writer. Itís very satisfying to discover a writer whose work I can enter into so completely. Now that Iíve tipped back over into the reading habit again I find myself wondering why I ever stopped. Iíve also discovered a stunning band this week, Rosie Brown. Really good music Ė seductive, brilliantly crafted and well, damned good; great to paint to as well.
Watching the little girl on the train dancing with her own reflection in the brightly lit interior windows of the carriage, I was reminded of how as a young boy I used to sit in front of the mirror and have conversations with myself. I remember the dressing table in Mum and Dadís bedroom with the hinged side mirrors and the way I could see myself in profile. When they were put facing each other, the corridors of repeated Terrys would stretch away into the distance. Such memories are precious, especially when triggered by the innocent preoccupations of children.
Age fascinates me. More specifically, the way in which we find ourselves plotted along an arbitrary timeline. Talking to Dorothy on the phone this evening it occurred to me that Althea is 22 years younger than she. Thatís the same age difference between me and James. As for Althea and I, a little less than 22 years separates us. Aunt and niece, sister and brother, great uncle and great nephew. By virtue of my age Iím completely betwixt and between. Dorothy and Althea have both known 47. One day James will too. ďAnd the seasons, they go round and round . . .Ē
It felt really good to spend the whole afternoon painting. Iím feeling cautiously optimistic about the piece Iím working on and today felt a bit like old times back in my student days, listening to Joni Mitchell, Rosie Brown and a little of Joe Sample to round things off. I felt reconnected with that younger self who was always scrambling to meet a deadline. Music was such an essential part of the equation then and it remains so now. And it feels so good to know I can still set a creative agenda for myself and follow through on it.
ďHow was your weekend?Ē I asked her. ďIt was okay,Ē she replied. ďWere you back in Ireland?Ē ďI donít go back to Ireland now.Ē ďBy the way,Ē I continued, ďhow is your friend at the moment?Ē ďThere isnít anyone to go back to,Ē she said. ďOh, Iím sorry.Ē ďI donít want to talk about it,Ē she said firmly. ďThatís fair enough,Ē I replied, clumsily realising that he must have died. And in that moment my heart went out to her, so resolute in her determination and need to carry on. The team depends on her. Itís her way of coping.
I suppose thatís the way itís done, bit by bit; step by step. It the cumulative effect thatís important, like the individual steps that take us to work, or the day by day engagement in the many and varied relationships we share with people, or the ongoing adventure of friendship and love. So many times we stumble and falter. So many times we think, ďAh bugger this, I really canít be bothered!Ē But if weíre not going to be bothered, then whatís the point? So we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and carry on from where we left off.
As the first month of the year draws to a close, have I done any of the things I said I wanted to do this year? Iíve made a start. Iím painting again and Iím reading again. If those are the only two things to emerge from this month then yes, itís been a good month. There have been other things too, small steps taken setting other wheels in motion. My mind is occupied with things that it wasnít occupied with before. So yes, itís been a good month and one that bodes well for the eleven others to come.
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